quinceañera, (Spanish: “15 years [feminine form]”) also called quinceaños or quince años or simply quince, the celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday, marking her passage from girlhood to womanhood; the term is also used for the celebrant herself. The quinceañera is both a religious and a social event that emphasizes the importance of family and society in the life of a young woman. It is celebrated in Mexico, Latin America, and the Caribbean, as well as in Latino communities in the United States and elsewhere.
The celebration begins with a mass attended by the girl and her family and godparents. Mass is followed by a reception, or party, to which friends and relatives are invited. The reception features food, music, and dancing, with the girl accompanied by her “court” of damas (“maids of honour”) and chambelánes (“chamberlains”). Symbolic actions may include the presentation of a doll to a younger sister, to show that the celebrant is giving up her childhood, and the placement of heeled shoes on her feet, to indicate that she is ready for womanhood. Traditionally, the dance portion of the quince includes a choreographed waltz-type dance that is prepared and is considered one of the main events of the evening. Toasts are often offered, and sometimes the cutting of a fancy cake is also involved. The celebration is generally as elaborate as the means of the family will allow. Although the quince observance originally signified that the girl was prepared for marriage, the modern celebration is more likely to signal the beginning of formal dating. Some girls choose a trip abroad rather than a party, and others now choose not to celebrate their 15th birthday in the traditional manner. Like many other rites and ceremonies, quinceañeras continue to evolve.
Because the Aztec and Maya also had such rite-of-passage customs, it is thought that the quinceañera may have originated in the admixture of Spanish culture (including Roman Catholicism) with that of the indigenous peoples the Spaniards colonized.